Women and Gender in the Middle East
Debates over the status of Middle Eastern women have been at the center of political struggles for centuries—as well as at the heart of prevailing Western media narratives about the region—and continue to be flash points for controversy in the present day. This course will attempt to explore the origins and evolution of these debates, taking a historical and thematic approach to the lived experience of women in various Middle Eastern societies at key moments in the region’s history. Topics to be covered include: the status of women in the Qur’an and Islamic law, the Ottoman imperial harem, patriarchy and neopatriarchy, the rise of the women’s press in the Middle East, women and nationalism, the emergence of various forms of women’s activism and political participation, the changing nature of the Middle Eastern family, the politics of veiling, Orientalist discourse and the gendered politics of colonialism and postcolonialism, women’s performance and female celebrity, and women’s autobiography and fiction in the Middle East. Throughout, we will interrogate the politics of gender, the political and social forces that circumscribe Middle Eastern women’s lives, and the individuals who claim authority to speak for women. The course will also briefly examine gender and sexuality as categories for historical analysis in the modern Middle East. Previous coursework in either modern Middle Eastern history or women’s history is encouraged but not required.